Sleepwalk with me

My on- and off-again friend, depression, has silently, slowly been holding me back, like an older sibling with her palm on my forehead as I swing my fists, unable to strike my oppressor. This is not my friend depression’s usual approach with me; usually, she comes in slowly, getting ever louder as she pushes my pressure points and sore spots. Unlike for many, my depression is usually a screaming, crying pain, rather than an inert whimper. Ever the shapeshifter, depression arrived this year and made writing and painting excruciatingly painful – but in creation’s pain, it became so much more important, worthwhile, and fulfilling when I was able to eke out a piece of work.

A friend (a real friend, not my jerk depression) recently shared an essay I read years ago, that resonated differently for me this time. In “The Cost of Daydreaming,” Vivian Gornick writes:

Ever since I could remember, I had feared being found wanting. If I did the work I wanted to do, it was certain not to measure up; if I pursued the people I wanted to know, I was bound to be rejected; if I made myself as attractive as I could, I would still be ordinary looking.

Around such damages to the ego a shrinking psyche had formed: I applied myself to my work, but only grudgingly; I’d make one move toward people I liked, but never two; I wore makeup but dressed badly. To do any or all of these things well would have been to engage heedlessly with life — love it more than I loved my fears — and this I could not do. What I could do, apparently, was daydream the years away: to go on yearning for “things” to be different so that I would be different.

When I was growing up, I tackled my “fear of being found wanting” with achievement. I worked tirelessly to be praised and to have a piece of paper or a stroke of ink proving that I was not wanting. When I graduated from college, a switch flipped in me. My ceaseless endeavors towards having the best and most education gave me a bad taste in my mouth. I wanted to be free. I wanted to accept myself and let go.

It was only after I’d given myself space and accepted myself that I started to feel my psyche shrinking, as Gornick said. It took years of ebbing and flowing, but here I am, half myself in everything I do, sleepwalking, latching onto big goals and outcomes that are always just around the bend, out of my reach. No ink nor paper to show for all of my half-work and bleary-eyed daydreaming, but also no satisfaction.

Creating is an uphill battle for me lately. I get excited about a project, prep for it, and drag myself through molasses to get started. Every brush or keystroke makes me feel more myself and more satisfied with my life, but each is harder than the last. For me, art is about revealing myself; laying myself bare: here are the colors I love; here is my weakness; here is my strength; here is the nose I got in the neighborhood of correct; here are the people I care about; here’s what I was too self-conscious to paint right the first time, but got right the second time; here is how I spend the last slants of late fall light after coming home from work. Since starting to paint for clients in 2011, I’ve had to unlearn my instinct to poke fun at what I do to alleviate some of the pressure of hoping people like what I have to share. I have had to stand next to my writing and my paintings and say, “Here I am. This is me.”

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The only piece of art I’ve finished in four months is this painting of Miranda July for Sandy, a person who has always supported me and artistically inspired me. I’m proud of this piece because I think I got Miranda July’s spirit right, but also because it was a trial through the thick of my creative mental blocks lately. In the end, I had to fight the final boss of my depression: putting all of myself into something and accepting I might fail with no one to blame but myself. I knew that if I were to stop, it would be an even greater failure. I would be going back on my word (and my Venmo) with someone who believes in me.

Gornick’s essay talks about the vacancies left when you stop daydreaming and start holding yourself accountable for the moments in life that you hold onto or let pass away. Knowing what activities help me grasp these moments has been half the battle: it has taken years to peel back the layers of myself and find that all along, the things that make me happy are the activities I loved as a little girl. Now that I can see the emptiness of achievements and the wholeness of art, I have a map of where I’m going and what I’m fighting for, but the guiding force is the people who see me, who have always seen me, as capable of failure, but as more than enough.

The Wedding Planner (I’m J. Lo)

I love songs about the wonders of the universe – the big, mysterious treasures of our world – that include a sweetheart. I love Jens Lekman’s “How We Met, the Long Version” that begins at the big bang and ends with a first kiss. I love Kacey Musgrave’s discussion of photosynthesis, neon fish, “and then there is you.” I love it when Brian Wilson sings that you’ll never need to doubt his love, “as long as there are stars above you.”

So I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise when I tell you that I’m a romantic. When I met Sam, I was completely burnt out on online dating, on hopes up and hopes in the trash, and on opening myself up to the possibility of a real partnership. Our relationship was a slow burn (Kacey Musgraves again), but once he pried my heart open with a crowbar (which included homemade steak dinners, feats of courage, and open-minded listening), I’ve been hooked ever since.

In addition to being a romantic, I love a project. I’ve painted series such as heroines, online cats, and myself; I’ve done cooking projects like learning to cook all my favorite soups from Soupbox; and I’ve made something every day of a whole year. I love a list to color-code and cross-reference. I love to X things off and add bullet points.

I am not, however, someone who grew up with elaborate daydreams about my wedding. I did ask my mom if I could wear a green pantsuit (yes) and if I could marry my favorite person (her – and no), but that was the extent of it. As a dedicated daydreamer, romantic, and project planner, my enthusiasm about my own wedding came along with our (mutually agreed upon) engagement. Suddenly, a big ole party to plan with all my favorite people and my most favorite person of all. No cats allowed, unfortunately.

Wedding planning has become a way to deal with my anxiety and burnout from daily life (the grind, the news, the World Cup, etc.). It also causes a little of the anxiety, but then it again soothes the anxiety, like a snake eating its own tail. Wedding planning has become part of my expression of creativity and my self-care, and much of what I’ve learned can carry over to any big, explosive life situation – be it good or bad:

  1. Choose a menial task that brings you joy when things stop being fun

For me that’s been making pom poms. Lord, do I love a pom pom. The pom pom making came about from my anxiety about living flowers. That’s right, baby – I can conjure anxiety from just about anything, first of all, nature. In an effort to limit the amount of blooms we’ll be paying for and arranging feverishly right before the big day, I wanted a long-term DIY project that could be a little more representative of our style and values. I’ve made about 100 so far, and found myself wrapping colored yarn around the pom pom contraption after my (second – not my fault) car accident in as many months. Something fun can come from my negative energy, and the fun can help dissipate the bad mojo.

  1. Give your money to people who seem cool

When we started our venue hunt, there was one place that seemed like the clear winner. It was psychedelic, beautiful, quirky, strange, and large. It was the weirdest place I could imagine getting married in Austin, and I had to have it. The man who showed us around was delightful, but extremely hands off. He didn’t care to know about us as people or our vision, and he certainly wouldn’t be there on that day. Sam encouraged me to be open to other places, so we trudged down a gravel driveway toward Tiny T’s ranch house to meet Spike.

Spike told us incredible stories of fun and love that had taken place on the ranch. She showed us wedding albums and showed us her home. She introduced us to her horses and asked about us. She told us the incredible story of the tiny chapel that sits in the pasture. She is a writer (like us!) and a lover of love (like us!). She was open and accommodating. We shut the door to the ranch house, looked at each other, and said, “That’s the one.”

Meeting with Spike helped cement the philosophy of my wedding planning that had been floating around in my conversations with Sam. Not only are the vows, playlist, centerpieces, food, and wedding party a reflection of our life together – so are the people we give our money to. These are the people who aren’t family or friends, but are so intimately connected to us that it should absolutely be someone who wants to get to know us and who is excited about what we want to do. People who take your spark of excitement and light their own are so important to your projects. We used this rubric to pick a wedding coordinator, photographer, and party. So far, so good!

P.S.

For me, this means hiring a lot of women who are vouched for by other women. Incorporating women into your wedding is one feminist wedding tip from our amazing photographer Diana Ascarrunz.

  1. Ask for help

This is a hard one for me. I’m not a control freak (I’m a control friend) but I do often feel like, if I need to get something done, the most reliable person I know is my damn self. I’ve asked for Sam’s help with all manner of things, and he’s always game, as my partner in planning. The harder part for me is asking for favors, discounts, and money (surprise: a state of Texas employee cannot pay for the wedding of the frickin’ century on her astronomical, Elon Musk salary).

So far, I’ve learned that my instinct to ask for lower prices is a good one. People understand all too well that weddings are expensive and they do what they can to help, especially if you’re planning far ahead.

I have an army of creative friends I can’t wait to ask for help as I take on more and more idiotic DIYs while living in a one bedroom!

  1. Give it a day

Lord, I am bad at this one. When I want something, I want it. Right. Now. But that’s why I have a Sam. He has a rule of threes – we have to pursue three options before deciding on anything big ticket. This has made all the difference. This is a double lesson: listen to your collaborators and hold your horses.

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Woo! That’s me getting over my big fear of oversharing about wedding planning. I’m so open to all of your tips about wedding planning, big projects, collaborating, hiring helpers, ETC. and on and on forever. Please give them to me!

The Flamingo Queen: This Is 30

I’m a straggler – so many of my friends are already in their dirty, flirty, nerdy 30s and loving it, even those who had to be dragged kicking and screaming into their own 30th birthday parties. This is (mercifully!) the last month of my 20s, with only 17 days to go. As I hurtle head-on into that milestone, I’ve been taking stock of my life. There’s a lot of talk in those horrible “Why aren’t millennials buying Ferraris?” articles about people of my generation not being where we thought we’d be, mostly based on our parents’ lives, at this age. I’m not a homeowner (thank GOURD – if I ever have to do a lawn care task, it will be too soon), I’m not married (on my way there), I’m not making enough money to support a family, and I haven’t made a name for myself in my career, in my artistic life, in my popstar aspirations (Emma XCX), etc. On this blog I spend a lot of time musing on what I’ve learned, but today I want to imagine the person I hope to be in my 30s, the things I hope to learn, and the cocktails I hope to drink.

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  1. Try an aperol spritz: what are they? People in New York drink them. I want one.
  2. Wear jumpsuits: you’re really cool if you wear a jumpsuit, it’s science. I must find one that works for my decidedly short corporeal form.
  3. Speaking of the tragedy of corporeality, stop self-body shaming. Part of this is knowing who I am and demanding people give me respect and adoration where I am in the present.
  4. Enjoy the silence. My therapist always asks me why I’m afraid of being boring, and I get all in a huff. I’m not afraid of being boring – no chance – I’m afraid of being bored. But why? One goal is to let there be empty parts of my life and to stop filling every nook and cranny with the junk food of life: people and things that make me feel bad in the end.
  5. Paint more. Yesterday, I was so tired from work and post-work weight training that I could barely stand to paint. But I did it. I painted three strokes and collapsed into couch potato life. Forcing myself to do a tiny bit is better than adding another day to the creative trash heap. Keep going.
  6. Challenge myself physically.
  7. Go to Big Bend. When I was 13, I went to Santa Fe with my mom to see Ghost Ranch, where Georgia O’Keeffe lived and worked for so many years. I still look back at those drives through the desert with boundless fondness. The desert: a land without allergies. An endless landscape of reds and purples. I want to feed that part of me that is a baby Georgia O’Keeffe. I know this is possible without (gulp) camping, and I’m ready to make it happen.
  8. Ride my god dang bicycle, which has sat lonely in the below-the-stairs bike rack since LAST MAY.
  9. Walk, walk, walk.
  10. Be proactive about my health. This means finding a doctor I don’t actively loathe, continue collecting sensible footwear, and skipping the third glass of wine.
  11. Plan the most Sam and Emma wedding possible – and don’t cave to the pressure to do it any other way. That’s right! I’m buying the pink flamingos that are on my wedding Amazon wish list. Wedding spoilers abound!
  12. Cultivate a community where we live. This is the first home I’ve ever had as an adult where this feels feasible. Our neighbors look out for each other, bring by treats, finish bottles of wine with us, take in our stranded packages, and share their dogs. I want to work on being a neighbor I would enjoy and appreciate.
  13. Wash my face every night, even on nights when I could fall asleep sitting up in my clothes.
  14. Volunteer my time.
  15. Learn a new craft. I think I might be ready to take the plunge into fiber art, after months of channeling my wedding anxiety into pom poms.
  16. Practice for skeeball. I’m pretty good, but I could be very good, right? 
  17. Send care packages. This used to be one of my favorite activities. I love assembling prayer candles and candies and shipping them to the people I miss so much.
  18. Defend myself when I’m feeling attacked. Boy, is this a big one this week. After a crappy interaction with a doctor and a friend, I smiled and nodded and, in so doing, internalized some of their piss poor attitudes about me. I bounced back, but why didn’t I speak up? That’s not me. Defending oneself is often about being vulnerable, almost crying, and trying to control one’s temper and timbre. Why don’t I trust myself to do that? I am powerful.
  19. Listen to a new band every week.
  20. See live music two times per month. A new study finds that seeing live music twice a month can help you live happier and longer. Let’s live forever, baby!
  21. Seek adventures, big and small. Take the long way home. Say yes.
  22. Wake up early. Early mornings, my old friend, make me feel more like myself and are the engine of my creative life.
  23. Keep in touch with people I miss and love.
  24. Pay compliments.
  25. Go to therapy regularly, even though it’s expensive and sometimes I don’t have much to say. Keep pushing.
  26. Hustle. Promote my business and make art that changes people’s moods.
  27. Save money. Hello, wedding joint savings account, my first real foray into saving (that’s right, mom).
  28. Support my friends’ art. They’re incredibly talented and deserve my attention and money.
  29. Push myself at work. Put in the time.
  30. Be the Flamingo Queen. A couple of weeks ago, I wore this dress. I was nervous to attend a formal event in something so Emma and so loud, but all night, people (timidly and bombastically) came up to me to pay compliments to the blessed dress. Getting in the elevator after the wedding, a little girl said to me, “I like your dress.” Then, quietly, she turned to her mom and said, “She looks like the Flamingo Queen.” The happiness and wisdom I gained in that moment is unparalleled in my 20s. People respond to positivity, to me being myself, to statements, and to playfulness. I had felt unsure if I was still young enough to make that statement and to be the Flamingo Queen, but b*tch, where’s my crown? Watch the throne: 30-year-old Emma is coming.

If I shine

I have always been good at friends (braggy, I know). I don’t mean to say that I’ve always had a ton of friends, or felt extremely close to the people around me; I mean that the people I choose to share myself with are special. I don’t suffer fools, and I make a special effort to connect with people who are creative and dedicated to their own happiness in an authentic way. I have had my share of bad feelings about being locked out of groups of people (even lately! I’m almost 30!) but usually, upon reflection, it’s the people who (like me!) want to cultivate a totally welcoming, collaborative lifestyle that make me tick.

Most of this skill I’ve developed is selfish. Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow coined the term Shine Theory™ to talk about women reflecting success onto each other – if I shine, you shine. I find this to be an incredibly helpful attitude when approaching my friendships. I like to be around people who bring out my best qualities, and I like being around people who I’m happy to pour my positive attitude into. I also take particular joy in someone telling me, “You have the best friends.” I do – and they’re yours for the sharing.

I write about friendship today because I’ve been in a creative rut. After a month of super intense painting in December, I took a month off and found my writing practice fall off too. The only creative pursuit I could really engage with was making pom poms – something I’m doing with my wedding planning energy for decor. Wedding planning has been a fun way to channel the tepid stream of my creative energies into something real – but let’s be real: my wedding is more than a year away, it’s one day of my life, and I have things to write and paint somewhere inside of me in the meantime. Since December, I’ve painted two things and written one post. How’s a girl to blow away the cobwebs?

Sometimes, I have to dig into my friendships to find the positive energy I can’t find within myself. Last month, a long distance bestie came to visit and reinvigorated my appetite for fun. Spinning around the dance floor at the White Horse, blurry-eyed and fancy-free, I remembered that I have a sense of adventure. Walking through Pease Park, I remembered I had a sense of reflection. He had given me back two of the key ingredients of my creative self.

Another good friend has asked me to support her – and to have her support me – in maintaining creative goals. We’re two writers – check her out at www.rosetruesdale.com – her in a state of transition in Berlin, me in a state of (reluctantly and enthusiastically) settling down in North Loop, Austin. My goal was small: to write once a week every week of March. When my alarm goes off, I think to myself, is today the day? Most days the answer is no. Today is the day to sleep my head off. But having some accountability meant that today, feeling rested, I cracked my knuckles over my 9-year-old laptop and here I am.

Sometimes, digging deep isn’t enough. I’ve learned to not get too freaked out by the ebb and flow of my creative tides, but I know that I feel better when I’m putting myself out there. That’s where you come in. What are some ways you motivate yourself to keep going? What are small goals and projects that bring you joy? Who are your creative engines – your motivators, who you know or don’t? If you shine, I shine – let’s hear it.

Matches struck unexpectedly in the dark

It’s day 13 of my favorite season – Thanksgiving Advent. It’s nearly a month of suggestions to make your day a little bit better, and then your month a little better, culminating in the best day of the year: a day to be thankful that you have food, traditions, family, friends, and most of all, you’ve met dogs before.

Thanksgiving Advent reminds me of a favorite Virginia Woolf passage from To the Lighthouse. She writes:

What is the meaning of life? That was all- a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years, the great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead, there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one.

During Thanksgiving Advent, I try to fabricate these little moments, to take out all the flimsy matchbooks I’ve collected from restaurants and get sparking. Instead of waiting for these daily miracles, I push my friends and family to make them for themselves.

I thought it was time to check in with myself (and you) about this little tradition to talk about things I’ve learned this month. Here’s what we’ve done so far:

November 1st: Uninstall an app that isn’t contributing to your happiness.

November 2nd: Tidy up

November 3rd: List your finer qualities

November 4th: Send mail

November 5th: Order something new

November 6th: Get an audiobook

November 7th: Make a signature cocktail

November 8th: Compliment a stranger

November 9th: Confide in someone

November 10th: Make a meme of your pet

November 11th: Throw out three things

November 12th: Do something you’ve been putting off

November 13th: Vocalize the best in even the worst thing that happens to you today.

The big themes of Thanksgiving Advent are self-care, whimsy, responsibility, and variety, which are the major categories I’ve been working on for self-improvement (except the whimsy – I’m honestly the mayor of Whimsy Town. See Thanksgiving Advent as a concept as an example).

As for self-care, I’ve found Thanksgiving Advent to be a great reminder to believe in myself. I’ve hit some rough patches lately, some personal and some inspired by the onslaught of reminders about violence against women. Above all, I need to believe that I can, and have, and will, overcome what life throws at me. Somehow, writing down that I have good hair and adding a maraschino cherry to a whiskey ginger and pressing the tiny X on NextDoor put me in a place to stand, face against the wind, ready to bop the next whack-a-mole of life.

One new thing I’ve noticed about Thanksgiving Advent is that I relied more heavily on “responsibility” ideas. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m months away from 30, but I have a newfound appreciation for the joy of having done something that I dreaded but has improved my life. Things like tidying up, throwing things away, confronting something I’ve been putting off – these are the tasks that have a long-term resonance on my happiness. Yesterday, I put brush to canvas on a really intimidating, exciting painting commission, and looking at it right now, I feel like a Real Painter.

Today is my favorite Thanksgiving Advent, something I relentlessly strive for on a daily basis: Vocalize the best in even the worst thing that happens to you today. In other words, avoid flailing or wallowing in life’s tiny turmoils or big obstacles. Challenge yourself to feel lucky and to push through.

One more thing I’ve been feeling this TA season: the rush of connecting with other people who just need a reminder to be happy as the days get darker. Lots of you have reached out to say how a particular task helped you. Even more acquaintances or long-lost friends favorited TA Instagrams, or sent me a cat meme. Thanksgiving Advent has me doing some of my favorite things: sharing positive experiences with friends, old, new, and in-between; being the star of the show (being honest here – you probably already knew this about me by now); fostering creativity; letting fate take the wheel; and helping people get over the hump of a bad day. These are my little illuminations, these moments of connection as we share a daily miracle. By Thanksgiving, we’ve built a path lined with luminaries.

Art tells us who we are

Sandy and I met at a Jens Lekman concert. I saw her, petite and singularly fashionable, giving her ID to the bouncer at Lincoln Hall, and I was nervous to say anything. She was an internet friend of a friend and I was not yet numb to the awkwardness of meeting people on the internet – thanks Twitter. Eventually, we connected at the show and that was it. We’ve been through Big Star margaritas, music festivals, bad boyfriends, bad jobs, grad school stresses, life revelations, and vintage shops together.

Sandy works at the Hirshhorn Museum in DC and, fittingly, the advice I snagged from her comes from her work with artist Ai Weiwei. I just about died when she posted the following Instagram:

sandy

Ai Weiwei infiltrated my consciousness because his sculpture Forever Bicycles made its way to Austin. I know next to nothing about the artist, but I’ll leave that to the curators and art historians out there. What I do know is: that’s some damn inspiring advice. Let’s break it down:

1. Learn a new skill

This week, I made a lasagna. That might seem like no big deal, but it’s one of the few holdouts of my mom’s recipes that I just have been too intimidated to make. I looked at the recipe, realized it might take around three hours, and balked. But that Saturday afternoon, it was raining, Sam was with Buddy the dog, and I had three hours. I did it – and it felt amazing. This was a new task, not a new skill, but it made me feel good as hell. Using muscles that hadn’t been discovered yet made my whole self feel strong and ready for whatever comes my way.

2. Travel places your parents never went

My spin on this is a little different, since my parents travel more than I do and never invite me to Hawaii. I try to live the lives that they didn’t have, to make them proud of the opportunities I take advantage of. To be clear, my parents have lived lives I can barely dream of (insert joke about millennial home ownership), but there are still worlds to conquer for the Martins. For me, this means living in three major cities, going to grad school, and moving cross country at the drop of a hat (okay, like three months of the hat dropping). These are opportunities that they have helped me meet, and I hope to continue to have experiences that they can ooo and ahhh over for years to come. I also hope to continue giving them heart attacks over my whimsical tattoos (Mom, it’s just the one).

3. Find things to tell stories about

This is really my passion: telling a story through non-fiction writing, through painting, and through archiving. My dreams tell me stories. My friends give me stories to tell. This is one of the great surprises of life – the stories that unfold and that just get better when repeated. I wonder about new ways to tell stories, about how to gather the stories of other. I’m always looking for your help with this, for your stories, for help telling my own.

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When I asked Sandy if I could share Ai Weiwei’s advice, she added a bit of additional wisdom. The artist said, “Art tells us who we are.” The art we make reflects not only who we are at the core, but it reflects the art we’ve taken in and devoured – the nourishment that life and art has given to us. What others create can be just as much (or more!) about ourselves than about those who made it.

Stay hungry, my friends!

Just kids

I recently asked my Facebook friends for help: what are their tips, tricks, and routines for self-care? I need advice – big league. The past month has been a stressful one and I’ve been knocked off my self-care game. This post is the first in a series of self-care tips from my friends.

Russell writes,

The self-care tip I’ve been investing some time into this year and that has really helped me is to kind of delve back into things that made me happy as a child and/or teen. This has taken the form of re-reading books, re-watching old animated TV/movies (which I probably never would’ve let myself because of the nagging voice in my head telling me I’m an adult now), and tapping back into a time when the only thing I had to worry about in a day was what I wanted to do to pass the time. It’s a small shift that’s really helped me a lot.

When I think back to my childhood, I remember really loving to dig holes and really hating to get in trouble. These interests were at odds, since it seems that adults don’t love you ruining their beautiful landscaping with a big old hole. Because of my limited memory of my childhood interests (hole digging – not such a great hobby to bring back into my daily life), I enlisted the help of my mom. Here what she remembers me liking to do:

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This is a blog mainly about how much I like soup. Thanks for reading!

But seriously, folks: my mom’s iMessage contains my new tenants of Summer ‘17:

  1. Be creative: this means being proactive about painting and (gulp) maybe getting into some Pinterest crafts. The fun part about this is that I have a new home rife with opportunities for me to hot glue somethin’ weird to somethin’ else.
  2. Get my hair wet: The aforementioned new home has a POOL, y’all. My new goal will be to get in that pool at least 3 times a week and to investigate exercises I can do in it (water aerobics here I come!).
  3. Use that table leaf: I love spending hours laughing with friends (I love to laugh – can you relate?), but my love of patio drinking and investigating new bars is getting a little pricey. I’m going to balance my expensive hobby with an inexpensive one: hosting meals at my house. We just acquired a small dining table that transforms into a large dining table. I will try to host friends at least once a week. Nothing like that 105 degree weather to get your soup appetite going!
  4. Read a book: Start with The Artist’s Way – Sue also mentioned how I loved to write. Seriously, Emma, just do it. Turn some pages. Scribble something down.

As for the media I consumed as a kid, I might find myself in Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood or hiring the Baby-Sitters Club. I might also read a Shel Silverstein book or learn more about Georgia O’Keeffe. I might return to my teen years and watch Amelie and Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. One thing is for sure: I’m going to be listening to a whole hell of a lot of Bright Eyes.

Please, please help me on my quest to try out my friends’ self-care regimes. How do you stay sane-ish? What’s the one simple trick that keeps you looking glowy and feeling brand new?

Going the distance

For about nine months, I drove a tiny bit over the speed limit to get home in time to skype Sam before he went to bed in Laon, France. I was always sad to say goodnight to him, but was especially sad on the days I struggled to take care of myself properly – days when I didn’t write or paint or run or drink water or moisturize. Those were the days I would audibly say “Harrumph!” as I closed the video chat window.

That being said, I did produce a lot of things during those months: several new, exciting friendships; almost a dozen paintings; this blog. We all go through lonely times, be they because of a lack of partner or being in a new environment or running short on good friendships. Here are some things that got me through:

1. Massages

This sounds – and also is –  bougie as all get out, but I credit a good portion of my mental health during the last months of my life to regular massage. I am a cat animorphed into a human, so a big part of my happiness comes from touch – hugging friends, snuggling Florence, holding hands. A great way to feel connected with my body and to get the human connection of touch was through massage. I am very lucky in that my employer subsidizes an in-house massage therapist every other week (and I work for the state, not even some open-concept, keg-laden start-up!). Scheduling table massages helped me feel taken care of. It also helped me feel like a luxurious princess, which I am. I highly recommend taking advantage of your local massage school, which have rates far below a high-end spa.

2. Scheduled socialization

Some of you might know that I’m America’s next top skeeballer. In Chicago, I used to take unsuspecting friends to play at Tuman’s in Ukrainian Village, where I would skeeball shark them into buying me pints of Angry Orchard. In Austin, I’ve been playing weekly in a league with some of my favorite people. Mondays were something to look forward to when the Sam-less weekends seemed to drag on forever. I also held a semi-regular dinner get-together at my house, where a few friends helped supplement whatever recipe I cobbled together for a main dish. Having those recurring Google Cal events kept my head above water when I started socializing with my cat more than actual human beings.

3. The World Wide Web

(Imagine the buzz of dial-up here) Millennials! All we do is look at screens all day, making the Snapchats and the emojis. I’ve always made friends and nurtured long-distance friends online, but it was especially important this last year. Long emails, Gchats, Twitter DMs, iMessage, whatever – during times of loneliness, cat crisis, and work woes, some of my best friends stayed in close touch even when they couldn’t physically make it to a happy hour. Thank you for being an (internet) friend.

4. Dark Horse Rosé

Self-explanatory. I’ve been experimenting with wine spritzers and can I just say – moms know what they’re doing.

5. Baseball

Having a passive activity to do by myself was key. I started watching baseball regularly two seasons ago – just in the nick of time to become familiar with our World Champion Cubs. When I whined (another activity I love!) about wanting more to do, folks loved to suggest that I do MORE painting. I put on my beret and looked down my nose at them as I explained that there’s only so much creative work one can do before they get diminishing returns. Whereas painting is my more enriching weekly ritual, baseball kept me stimulated, out of the house, and perhaps most importantly, gave me something to chat with my dad and brothers about. I got really good at feeling powerful when telling the sports bar waiters, no, I just needed one menu. Okay, two, in case Kris Bryant finally shows up to take me on a date.

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I see the last nine months as tough but formative. I cried a lot, but I learned about myself and the people around me. I wouldn’t recommend shipping your partner overseas to live in a middle school dorm, but practicing how to do stuff by yourself is a great way to build those big, strong self-care muscles, so you can be your own emotional Kris Bryant.

Toilet Cat & Friends

I miss a lot of things when my roommate’s away: the smells of her amazing cooking,someone to ask me about my day,and the feeling of certainty that if someone broke into the house, she would murder them before they got to me. But when the cat’s away, the mice (Emma the human and Florence the actual cat) will play. What this means for me is taking over the entire living room to paint. I take over the whole rug and I block the TV. I sing along to that new Sylvan Esso song. I ask Florence what she thinks of a dab of gold on the canvas.

I started painting in earnest in 2011, first to make my friends and family laugh, then to help pay my rent. I’d love to say that painting had some really glamorous self-care function for me: that it acted as a dramatic form of self-expression or that it was a form of meditation. But like with all my self-care activities, painting is a little goofy.

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1. I get to make people smile

My second best-seller of all time is Toilet Cat. Toilet Cat came about when a former roommate of mine became obsessed by the idea of teaching Florence to use the toilet. I found the idea repugnant because I imagined having to use the ladies room, only to find my cat taking her sweet time on the throne. This idea spawned Toilet Cat-a cat enjoying a good read atop the toilet. I love to make people laugh, to give them something to smile about when they enter their bathroom. The same goes for my painting of Oprah – on sale now! There’s something wonderful about the Queen of Daytime peering down at you while you relieve yourself.

2. I get to surprise myself

I rarely know what I’m doing, in life and in painting. I ask for guidance from my patrons – color schemes, personalities, accessories – but usually I am left to my own devices. This opens up something inside of me. After years of doing this, I have found that bright colors excite me, but I’m always surprised by where I decide to put them or combine them (for better or for worse). I’m always surprised by what I do in my spare painting time: googly eyes, metallics, peaches, and emojis come to mind. I love me, I’d do anything for me.

3. I get a feeling of supreme satisfaction

Some of my favorite paintings are those that not only surprise me, but surprise you. When you hang a painting in a place of honor, I get a jolt of self-confidence that doesn’t always exist in the archives world or in my daily life.

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Below, you’ll find the development of a recent painting, from start to finish. It’s been my replacement roommate for a little bit, and while it doesn’t cook or clean or tell jokes, having a little daily task has made a world of difference to my brainwaves. Some days I filled in the bones of these fine cats, other days I only dabbed on a bit of shocking blue. Progress is progress.

Painting not only provides great self-care; it also has posed a huge self-care obstacle. Isn’t that fun? Because the subjects of my painting, my cartoony folk art style, and my sometimes self-deprecating attitude about being a self-taught painter, I often encounter folks that like to make little jokes and little digs about what I do. They always make me feel rotten. After a lot of reflection about why this is, I realized that I open the door to piss poor attitudes because I sometimes have one myself. Painting has taught me to speak nicely of myself, to be bold, and to be proudly passionate of painting big shiny eyes and brightly colored tails.

Back in the habit

Every week I see a mentor of mine and she asks how I’m doing, and I tell her I haven’t been able to get back into a healthy routine. Bless her soul, she never says, “Still?”

France was more than a month ago; South By’s long past. Why am I still lying on the couch, sleeping in, indulging in food and drink, and feeling sorry for myself? Where is my running routine, my moderation, or my finely-tuned internal alarm clock?

It’s hard to get back on the horse – but it’s time. Here are a few strategies I’m trying out to get myself on a healthier track:

Healthy eating

I’ve written about my struggles with weight and eating, and while I’m still on the path to a healthier lifestyle, I’ve stalled out. Someone who has also battled these bears suggested getting back into tracking my food and accounting for the things I’m still hanging onto: the chips with my sandwich; the wine on the couch; and the extra bites of that rich homemade dinner. Planning for indulgence means that I don’t feel guilty about what I’ve eaten, which is such a burden put on women – food feels tied to moral correctness, self-worth, and even shame in a way I am still trying to untangle. For now, feeling in control of even the unhealthy things I put in my body is making me have a more productive relationship with food, until I’m able to fully disconnect from societal pressures that have instilled these feelings of guilt in me.

Healthy thinking

I’ve been struggling in this department a lot, truth be told. For some reason, the transition from school to work has hit me a year later, bumming me out about not having my friends around all the time and not having naps around me all the time. I am sometimes lonely and sometimes bored, which to me are two of the worst possible feelings. The loneliness means I’m saying yes to things I don’t actually want to do, sitting there with people who don’t interest me or annoy me thinking, “Why am I doing this again?”. Oh ya – because I wanted another human to look me in the face and ask me about my day. The boredom means my art is suffering (try, just try, to paint a stroke while feeling like an uninteresting blob), as is my opinion of myself. Digging myself out of this hole sometimes feels impossible.

I’m a huge proponent of therapy, any of my friends will tell you. You, yes you, need a therapist – and so do I. Returning to therapy gives me an outlet for the bad feelings and strategies for dealing with them when they arise in my downtime. Still, there’s a lot to work on both with my therapist and on my own.

Another strategy I’m using is planning for the future. What am I looking forward to? This means I’m already browsing for furniture for our new apartment. I’m looking for plane tickets for weddings I might be able to attend. I’m booking hotels for conferences. I’m rustling up some future painting orders. It brightens the dull days that just keep coming, but won’t be here forever.

Cats help, too.

Healthy moving

I have turned into a bit of a slug. I’ve been moving slowly, when necessary, with a few power walks when I’m late coming back from my lunch. I’ve told myself I’m focusing on getting my head on straight – but exercise is part of that.

Two things are helping disrupt my current malaise: getting back on my bike after 8 months out of the saddle and feeling challenged by the pedometer challenge at work. Facing my fear and getting back on my bike has reminded me just how many muscles I haven’t been using. It also makes me feel powerful and in control of my transportation. Walking in the mornings, lunch, afternoons, and evenings, with some running thrown in for good measure, works out some anxious feelings and burns off some of that extra wine that I’m dutifully tracking (right?).

I woke up today the same sluggish, bored person I was yesterday, but I’m working toward some of my more exciting self-care practices. Even slugs can pick themselves up and keep moving, even if they’re a little slimey.

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Update on skincare: I am trying out some new things in my routine to see if I can’t fix some of my skincare woes. The results are, in a word, horrifying. Y’all crazy for some of this stuff. My wise Aunt Laurie advised that I give more time than a week with each new addition to the routine, as it can take my skin time to balance out. Here’s hoping! That chart is still coming your way one of these days.